Masses & Mainstream
May, 1956, pp 17-22
(published as first part of Chapter 4,
"An Interesting Event," pp 41-51)
A Story by Howard Fast
We are pleased to publish a chapter from Howard Fast's forthcoming novel, The Story of Lola Gregg. The protagonist is the wife of a progressive who is being hunted by the FBI. The following is the recapitulation of an incident from her childhood in the form of a school paper which she wrote at the time. The novel will be published by the Blue Heron Press.-The Editors.
This is a composition of something about myself, and also an interesting event. My name is Lola Fremont. I am twelve years old and live in Hagertown, New Jersey, where I was born in the year 1918. We are Presbyterians, but my mother was a Methodist before she married my father who was a Presbyterian. Our teacher suggested information about ourselves and some description of a general nature before the description of an interesting event.
I will try. I have two brothers. Robert is 14 years old. Thomas is only 9 years old. My father is Dr. Max Fremont, who almost everybody in the town of Hagertown knows about, and some people say that I resemble him but I think that I look more like my mother, Sarah Fremont. It is interesting to have a father that everybody knows about and almost everybody likes, but not everybody. There are some people who do not like my father for the things he thinks, but he says that he will think what he pleases, otherwise a man could better be dead.
There are some people who say that he is an atheist, which is a person that does not at all believe in God; but that is only because he does not go to church. He says that with the sun in the blue heavens, it is a sin for a man to lead his soul into a dry and musty church. He says that as for God, if there is one he will take care of things well enough without the assistance of pious hypocrites who live in Hagertown, but my mother gets very angry when he says this. She believes in God very truly. Robert and Thomas and I are allowed to make up our own minds. I have not really decided yet.
But most people in Hagertown like Doc Fremont and they say he is a little eccentric but a good doctor. Hagertown is a small town with a population of 1654 people and is steadily increasing. Its principal industry is the canning factory for tomatoes mostly and catsup. It also has a First National Bank and a new Post Office. I think that even if I was not born in Hagertown, I would rather live there than anywhere else.
We live in the white house on the corner of Elm Street and Union Avenue and the house looks bigger than it is because a wing of the house is Dr. Fremont's clinic and examining room. He says that the situation in Hagertown is no better than anywhere else in America as far as medicine is concerned, because they just let things happen, and if a town has a good doctor it is a lucky town or it can have a bad doctor or no doctor at all. I think Hagertown is a lucky town.
I have tried to put down some description of a general nature, because the interesting event has to do with Dr. Fremont and the canning factory and Hagertown. I think this is not strange because I am a doctor's daughter, and last week, when Mrs. Bently, my father's nurse, had to go to Patterson to nurse her sick mother my father asked me how would I like to come in afternoons when school was over and be his nurse. Of course, he didn't want me to be a real nurse, but just to answer the telephone when he was inside with a patient and to tell the people in the waiting room who was next.
I guess that I have wanted to be a real nurse since I thought about what I want to be and sometimes Mrs. Bently lets me help her so I knew what to do and my father teaches me first aid too, because he says I am the only one in the house with enough stomach to see blood without going faint.
The interesting event which I have chosen as the subject of my composition happened at four o'clock in the afternoon, the third day after Mrs. Bently had left to nurse her mother in Patterson. I was sitting at Mrs. Bently's desk wearing a white middyblouse, because that is the only thing I have that looks a little like a nurse's uniform and there were two patients left in the waiting room, one of them old Mrs. Garrison who has arthritis very severely and the other Sam Franklin on the high school football team, who sprained his wrist. I was reading my geography and doing my homework.
Then three men from the cannery burst into the waiting room in great hurry. I guess it is not right to say that they burst in, because one of them was sick and the other two were helping him to walk but they did seem to burst in, even the man who was hurt so badly. That man had a face as white as flour. His face was so white that the whiskers stood out in a funny way against it. His hand was wrapped in a lot of rags and all the rags were soaked in blood but could not hold the blood which began to drip through the rags onto the oilcloth floor of the waiting room.
I guess I will never think of Sam Franklin or any of the boys on the football team as heroes anymore, because as soon as he saw all the blood and the pain expressed on the poor man's face, Sam turned green and ran right out of the waiting room. I don't mean that he really turned green, but that was the way it seemed. Old Mrs. Garrison just sat there as if she was frozen.
One of the men from the cannery said, "Where is the doctor? Is he in, little girl?" I ran into my father's office, where he was working on a urine test for Mrs. Garrison. I wouldn't use that word, but I asked my father today, and he said it was all right to use it in a medical sense, otherwise the people who read my composition would think that he was sitting in his office and contemplating his navel, something he never has a chance to do, although he says he would like to do it once in a while just for a change.
He told me not to get excited and what had happened, and I told him about the man in the waiting room. Well, he didn't waste any time but opened the door and had them bring the man right in to his operating room. It isn't a real operating room, but because the nearest hospital is forty-five miles away, he sometimes has to use it. By now the man who was hurt was sobbing with pain and tears were running down his cheeks and the other two men did not look very good, but one of them said to me that I was a little girl and should go out. My father said never mind about me being a little girl, and he said to me to go and wash my hands like he had showed me how to do. It is not just washing your hands like you do every day before supper, but a special way a doctor washes them with special soap a doctor has.
While I was washing my hands, my father had the man lie down on the operating table and he cut off his shirtsleeve and took away the bandages, and then the man began to cry and it was the first time I ever heard a grown up man cry like that and I was really frightened and then the man began to say, while he was crying, just like a little boy, "Am I going to lose my hand, doc? Are you going to cut it off, doc?" My father said that he wouldn't lose anything except blood and that had been lost already because no one had brains to put a tourniquet on his arm. My father has a wonderful way of talking to people so they think everything is all right even when it isn't all right, and all the time he talked he worked and he works so fast you don't even know that what he's doing is being done.
He put a tourniquet of rubber tubing above the man's wrist and another on his hand and he said to me at the same time, what on earth was keeping me and how long did it take me to wash my hands. I told him I was all washed, and he said to me, "Sterile syringe. Tablet quarter grain morphine, atropine sulphate, dissolve in 1 cc of sterile water."
This meant that he wanted me to take a pill, I guess it's better to call it a tablet, of morphine and atropine and dissolve it in a cubic centimeter of boiled water and load a hypodermic needle with it, and I was able to do this exactly as he told me to because he had showed me how and I had done it before. Then I had to look at the cut when I handed him the hypodermic and for a moment I thought the same thing would happen to me as happened to Sam Franklin, but my father spoke to me right away, very sharp the way he speaks when he wants something done and when he speaks that way everyone in town listens to him, even Selly Guhrman, the Mayor who my father said is something we endure the same way we do measles. My father said, "Lola, bandages and peroxide right away. Don't ogle." Then I held the pan while he washed out the wound. I guess maybe he would have wanted one of the men to hold it, but their hands were shaking and mine weren't, at least not as much. Then I watched him bandage, because he always said that dressing is an art within an art and some doctors not only can't dress but wouldn't recognize art if they saw it in a glass of water when they were dying of thirst.
Then the hurt man who all the time was moaning and crying fainted and my father said to the others that he had gone into shock and that they would have to take him right to the hospital because as much of a rotten shame as it was, the hand would have to come off. He told me to get blankets and I took them from where he keeps them in his office closet, and then they wrapped the man in blankets and carried him out to my father's car. My father said to me, "Lola, hold the fort until I come back.
No more patients today unless they're bleeding to death, and if they are I guess you can take care of it as well as I can."
So I went back to the office and told Mrs. Garrison that she would have to go home and come back tomorrow. She kept trying to talk to me about the man from the cannery, but I told her that Dr. Fremont does not allow me to talk about his patients. This is a sort of fib, or I would have no right to write this composition, but I just couldn't stand the thought that Mrs. Garrison would want to talk to me and ask all the things that went on in the office. Finally, she went home but she was very provoked at me and said that she would have to tell Dr. Fremont that I was insolent.
I sat at the desk and did the rest of my homework and then read some of The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come but my father did not come back until eight o'clock. At six o'clock, my mother came in and said I had to eat supper, but I told her that the doctor told me I must remain here until he came back and at last she said, all right if I was going to be as stubborn and foolish as my father, she would bring me a sandwich and a glass of hot milk to drink in the office. Then my brother Robert came in and said why didn't I stop trying to show off and be grown up when I was just a kid and everybody knew I wasn't a nurse and couldn't be a nurse for anyone. I told him to go away and stop bothering me, and then when he did go away, I began to cry and cried for almost half an hour.
When my father came in, he grinned at me and said, "Well, my own Florence Nightingale, has the citizenry been well or ill since I left?"
I told him that no one called except Mrs. Schwartz who said that her little boy was croupy and she was very upset, so I told her to give him ipicac and steam him and that Dr. Fremont would call her when he got back, and she thanked me and that she must have thought that I was the nurse.
"So you were," my father said, "and why no smiles, no glad hellos?" I said that I didn't know, but it was just the way I felt, and my father said yes, he understood the way I felt. Then he took off his hat and coat, and when I asked him did he want me to tell mother he was home for supper, he said that would be in good time, but first he wanted to talk to me and first he wanted to kiss me. He took me in his arms so hard it hurt, and then he wiped his eyes and told me sternly to sit down and we would get a few things plain.
Then he said what a rotten thing had happened to that poor man and how they had to amputate his hand at the hospital, and how if he came out of it all right, which was touch and go because of all the blood he had lost, he would never be able to work in the plant again. He told me that even if he sued the company, they would get big lawyers and the poor man would be lucky to get a hundred dollars out of it. "So you see, Lola," he said to me, "a doctor can only bandage and stop the bleeding. He can't cure the disease." Then I asked him what the disease was, and he said God knows but doesn't even tell preachers, and maybe it was the selfishness of the canning company that would not shell out a few dollars for safety measures or maybe it was the way things always were and always would be.
I said to him that even if things always were one way, I didn't see why they always had to be that way, and he looked at me in a funny way and said, "Lola, if a man like me can produce something like you, then God only knows but what you may be right." I asked him what he meant by saying that, but he said, no, it took a little time to grow up.
So I think that this is a good place to end my composition about an interesting event that happened to me.